Hollywood Costume (not fashion)

I went to the V and A exhibiton Hollywood Costume and was lucky to be taken on a tour by Professors Deborah Nadoolman Landis and  Christopher Frayling the curators.

Here are my notes.

Costume is not fashion. It is created for one moment on a screen, a 2-dimensional moving picture. It serves the function of making us believe and connect with the character. The colour, silhouettes, moods and details are all important. Like everything in a film, nothing is arbitary. Everypart of the image, words and sounds are carefully thought through. It is all for emotional impact.

All the jewelry worn by the large blue CGI creatures in Avatar was made first in the real world. It was impossible, said James Cameron a video in the exhibition, to create convincing tribal jewelery in 3-d. It had to be designed and the physical object stood as an  example for the 3-d animators to replicate, to look right and hang right. It was largely beaded, woven, and coloured with every detail.

I was keen to see Harrison’s fords Indiana Jones (whose slacks were based on trousers worn by CHIPS!) and Han Solo. Indiana Jones reduced brimmed hat to see eyes for the camera.Darth Vader wasn’t as frighenting as I had antcipated and even less so with a plastic box on his front. The acting, breathing and presence was lost here. Keanu Reeves Matrix coat was surprisingly effective and recognisable. A red dress from The Bride Wore Red was the reddest dress I have ever seen.

Meryl Streep says the costume fitting is with her and the designer and they wait for a third person to enter the room.

Everything has meaning. A polyester shirt or a denim shirt with vintage buttons in brokeback mountain. Or the plainest blue tshirt of FightClub next to a leather jacket died the colour of dried blood. The show of courtly dresses made the impression that must have been made to a court visitor. Power, clout, splendor, scale.

Its not fashion, its like drawing. Every element thought through for emotional impact of that one moment at that one time on screen in those lighting conditions and with that movement.

Hitchcock didn’t like bright colours in costume unless it had a significance in the story.

Costume, as the curators pointed out, is hard to display because it is without the moment and the person, the actor and the character,  inside. I think the costumes have more meaning if we can put them on and wear the dress that X wore. (In fact, some on display were hireable until a couple of months ago)

I was looking for the aura imbuded in the costume, the aura from the character or from the actor. Audrey Hepburn’s Tiffany’s dress, Dorothy’s Wizard outfit, Marilyn’s white vent frock, Chaplins tramp’s suit. Could these pieces of cloth act like  a Saint’s relic does, imbued with the power of the star?



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